During the winter months, most of us prefer to stay at home near the fireplace under our warm, cozy blankets. We go out of our way to stay out of the cold by zipping up our down jackets and by using our automatic starters before we go out into our cars.
It’s totally normal — nobody really likes the cold, but did you know that it’d actually good for our immune system to sit in an ice bath or take a cold shower? We’ll explain.
Benefits of cold water immersion
Have you ever seen athletes Instagramming from a cold ice bath or trying out those spaceship-looking cryotherapy tanks? Well, they’re doing it for good reason. Here are three reasons you should try it too.
Reduce stress: One of the benefits of doing this ‘‘crazy’’ thing, as some of us might describe it, is that you will instantly feel happier and more energetic. Exposing the body to cold temperatures reduced the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases the feel-good hormones, endorphins.
Boost your immune system: Doing cold immersion therapy two or three times per week, you might notice that you aren’t sick as often. Studies are still inconclusive on whether or not cold immersion therapy prevents illnesses, but it’s suggested that the cold temperatures contract your lymph vessels. This contraction, which is typically achieved via muscle contraction, pumps lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing waste, bacteria and microbes out — essentially cleansing the body.
Reverse inflammation: As we mentioned above, athletes do a lot of cold water immersion. This is because, after a training session, muscles get quite swollen from the increased blood flow and torn muscle fibers. The cold water lowers the temperature of the muscles worked and constricts the blood vessels, helping speed up recovery time and bringing instant relief from the numbness.
Four stages of cold water immersion
Now, let’s talk about the science behind cold water immersion. There are four important stages.
What is the first stage of cold water immersion? To put it simply, your body enters a state of shock: cold shock. After anywhere between 3 and 30 minutes (depending on the water temperature), your body enters stage two: swim failure. During this period of time, the muscles and nerves cool quickly, reducing manual dexterity, grip strength, and speed of movement by anywhere from 60-80 percent. Stage three, something you won’t experience in cold water immersion therapy, is hypothermia. This can set in after about 30 minutes and, in a dangerous situation, leads to loss of consciousness and possibly death. Not to worry, this won’t happen in your cold water immersion therapy session as the session typically lasts around 10 minutes.
How to do cold water immersion at home?
Of course, you don’t need to spend all day making ice cubes or spend your whole paycheck on a cryotherapy package to reap the benefits of cold immersion therapy. Feel that instant endorphin boost by jumping in a nearby lake or a swimming pool.
However, if you do want to try this at home — we’ll be honest — you’ll definitely need a lot of ice cubes and a bathtub. If you have a bathtub, fill it with cold water and a bag of ice or several trays of ice cubes. Jump in and stay there for up to 10 minutes — or as long as you can withstand. If you don´t have a bathtub, taking an ice-cold shower might have similar effects. If you want to do cold immersion for only some parts of your body — an ice pack could do the trick. If it’s your feet feeling tired or overworked, fill a bucket with ice water and dip them right in.
Tips for your cold water immersion
We need to talk a little bit about the ideal conditions — and dangers — of cold water immersion. Here are three of them:
Timing matters: When you do cold water immersion, don’t plan to stay submerged for too long lest you subject your body to hypothermia. But, don’t worry, if you stay in your ice bath for less than 20 minutes you’ll be a-OK. Of course, listen to your body. If your body says that it’s enough, it’s enough.
Check the temp: When you do cold water immersion, the temperature must be between 8-15°C (45-60°F) depending on who you ask. Usually, the average temperature is about 11°C (50°F).
Mind over coldness: If you slip into your ice bath thinking, “Oh my goodness, it’s going to be so cold and painful,” then it’ll feel cold and painful. Instead think, “My body is going to love this and it’s not too cold to handle.”
If you want to try cold water immersion, commit to doing it a couple of time per week — or after every workout. Start with a higher temperature (15°C) and a shorter period of time (1-2 minutes) instead of going straight for 15 minutes at 8°C. When your body is ready, work your way up to longer ice baths at cooler temperatures.
Other methods of cold immersion therapy
We touched on a few different methods of cold immersion therapy above, but here they are again. To feel immediate muscle soreness relief in a certain area, grab an ice pack or bag of frozen veggies out of your freezer. You can also take a cold shower or make a mini ice bath for your hands or feet. If hopping in a cold body of water is an option for you, find a pool or lake to swim in.
Submerging your body in ice cold water is not easy the first time. It’s kind of like learning to ride a bike: At first, you dread getting on the bike because you’re scared that you might fall. Don’t be scared to slip into that ice bath the first time. You’ll feel the reward almost immediately.
Looking for some sweaty, strengthening workouts that leave your muscles craving an ice bath? Sign up for 8fit.